Giving Compass' Take:

• Instruction Partners, a Nashville-based nonprofit, helps small school districts focus on building teacher effectiveness and provides professional development training.

• How can families and surrounding community members offer support to schools in small districts? 

• Here are six K-12 school districts to watch in 2019. 

When Chrystie Edwards moved to Memphis in 2015 to lead academics for the fledgling Tennessee branch of the Green Dot charter school network, the task before her was daunting. Green Dot had assumed control of two long-struggling schools and was about to take over leadership of three more middle and high schools. Four of what would become Green Dot’s five schools were performing in the bottom five percent of schools statewide.

At the end of 2016-17, the sheer volume of work was spreading Edwards’s staff so thin that she realized they’d lost sight of the school’s core mission: helping students learn.

“It felt like we were kind of like hamsters on a wheel,” she said. “Everyone was working really hard, but we weren’t seeing the needle move enough in terms of teacher effectiveness or student achievement.”

Edwards reached out to Instruction Partners, a Nashville-based nonprofit that supports teachers, especially those in small districts and charter management organizations, with what the organization calls “the unglamorous stuff that is often overlooked, such as coaching models, curriculum design choices and the structure of teacher professional development.”

With Instruction Partners helping to focus their teachers more on delivering instruction than designing curriculum, three of Green Dot’s five schools reached the highest level of student growth in Tennessee in 2018. One school achieved that mark after just a year of support; two other schools partnered with Instruction Partners for two years.

The organization is developing a niche among small districts — those with 10,000 or fewer students — that are keen to improve teaching and learning but lack the staff and time to do it well. Three years after launching, Instruction Partners is growing rapidly, expanding from 170 partner schools in January to 230 in June — mostly in Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and Indiana.

Read the full article about helping small school districts by Brendan Lowe at The 74.